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Yet Two More School Shootings

First, I want to give my apologies about not writing about these two tragedies earlier. I am not really a journalist, but I feel like as a writer I have a special duty to speak after such tragedies. So here it goes: the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. To show our love for the children of Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, we must act. For if we do not act, our words are meaningless. No doubt that this has itself been said over and over since Sandy Hook in Connecticut. In my memory there was another such tragedy at Columbine in Colorado, though at that time these incidents were much rarer and I was in High School myself. The point is, we must act.

I myself plan to write both my senator and my house of representative member. They are Republicans, but perhaps there in one or both of them a conscience still waiting to be awakened. Also I will say a few prayers tonight. Sometimes I am forgetful about my prayers, but this time I shall try to say something about the innocent children being murdered while going to school. And I will leave this following scriptural quotation because in a sense it is so relevant to the collection of little corpses at two more schools:

Alas!

Lonely sits the city

Once great with people!

She that was great among nations

Is become a widow;

The princess among states

Is become a thrall.

Bitterly she weeps in the night,

Her cheek wet with tears.

There is none to comfort her

Of all her friends…

With their own hands, tenderhearted women

Have cooked their children;

Such became their fate,

In the disaster of my poor people…

But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever,

Your throne endures through the ages.

Why have You forgotten us utterly,

Forsaken us for all time?
Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself

And let us come back;

Renew our days of old!

Lamentations 1:1-2; 4:10; 5:19-21

Jews believe that it is possible to live in exile even while living in the Promised Land itself. So it is that perhaps as long as these shootings exist in America, the people live in exile, as described in Lamentations, with the Temple’s destruction being Lamentation’s major theme. We will rebuild our Temple with laws governing how guns can be used and who can use them… but we also need a rebirth of the soul, a recognition of the value of human beings which is the bases both of our various religious traditions and our shared civil religion.

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New Publications

I want to apologize to any fans I have because I have not written in so long. The truth is that I have been under the weather, largely due to the fact I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder. I won’t go into any details, but being mentally ill can cause a person to neglect the social whirl in which people are expected to take part. However, I have read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and two of three volumes (I am 150 pages into the third) of The Cambridge History of Russia. And there is more.

I have published more of The Bible According to Eve with Urlinkpublishers.com. I already had The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah published. Now, available at Amazon.com, I have:

The Bible According to Eve: The Nevi’im I: The Histories: Eve in Search of Adam;

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im II: The Seers: Eve Supplants Lilith;

and The Bible According to Eve: The Ketuvim: Eve Struggles with God and Man and Prevails.

Each of these books break down a certain portion of the Hebrew Bible, and focusses on the stories of the women in those portions. I really believe in this “Book” and hope that somebody will pay money to read it. I also have a book coming out–it is not religious but political in nature:
Faust in Love

It is about politics and Donald Trump is a major character being debunked in the book. I consider myself rather left of center in religion and politics: not really a fan of AOC but absolutely incensed by the racism promoted by Fox network. Although I voted for Hillary Clinton above Donald Trump, in the primaries I voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary because I felt he had more character–this despite being ambivalent about “Democratic Socialism.” I genuinely like Joe Biden and voted for him, but sometimes the left pushes me farther than I want to go: I don’t understand exactly what the theory of Critical Race Theory says–I mean I don’t understand it, not that I object to it per se–and I guess I didn’t understand how anyone could want to ban Dr. Seuss or other classic kids books from the classroom.

You could argue, “Well, it is not like you are banning War and Peace?” but I believe children who read great books as kids grow up to be great readers as adults. Besides, children ought to have some freedom to choose their own kid’s books, even beyond what their parents think. I hope that doesn’t sound like I am a silly person who doesn’t understand what is going on in our nation or the world.

I am just socially a tad more conservative than the average Democrat is supposed to be–a Conservative Jew who still believes in the goodness of George Washington and the Founding Fathers besides Abraham Lincoln–and sometimes that bothers me. This is despite my firm commitment to the belief in the equality of all human beings–in the form of saying that immigrants coming to America deserve respect, as do our traditional minorities. I believe that was what Thomas Jefferson was trying to say in the Declaration of Independence. I don’t care that he didn’t always live up to it in his private life.

J’ Accuse

Thinking about the twin tragedies of Buffalo, New York and Uvalde in Texas, I did something common in introverts: I introspected, possibly focusing more on my reaction to the terrible situation I recorded some thoughts on earlier than on the situation. I know being this way convinced people I was a narcissist in High School, but I hope the reader will forgive me. Maybe my thoughts can help them if they grant me the luxury of focusing less on the tragedy than on another tragedy I wrote about in a book: The Bible According to Eve: Ketuvim: The Writings: Eve Struggles with God and Man and Prevails. It is Book IV of The Bible According to Eve, poems about the women of the Hebrew Bible. Compiled into the complete The Bible According to Eve were all the Hebrew Bible excepting two of the twelve minor prophets and the two books in the Ketuvim (Writings) which I will write about here. The Prophetic books I didn’t write about had no mention of women in those two books. However, the Ketuvim included two books which I wanted to write about here: Lamentations and Job.

Lamentations was the one I transformed from a book describing the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Babylonians into an accusatory book about the children who died in the Holocaust. Who is accused? God. God is called on to reply why these 1.5 million children died in the concentration camps. I wrote about I Never Saw Another Butterfly; The Diary of Anne Frank; and Janusz Korczak having read both King of the Children and King Matt the First. Since I have wished I could go back in time to include the diarist Renia Spiegel. However, that is not to be.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly comes out of Theresienstadt, the “model concentration camp” created as window dressing for the world. The conditions there were, on the surface, better than Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Educated Jews went to these camps and kept up the false cheer of believing nothing worse than the camp itself was waiting for them or their children. Most of both the adults and the children would die in the real camps later on. While there, the children were encouraged by adult Jews to draw, paint, and write their troubles away. Eventually these children’s art would be collected in I Never Saw Another Butterfly. I personally have other books and even CDs (there were Jewish composers who produced music in the camp, which was not destroyed) but for my book I focused on the children, with the theory that perhaps in this world the only innocence is childhood.

Anne Frank was one I was told to avoid because “everyone knows who Anne Frank was.” But I could not abide by this. I felt that her diary was too moving and the author to full of promise cut down all too young, for me not to include her book in mine. I have since come across books similar–Zlata’s Diary and Renia Spiegel’s–but I am ashamed to admit I have not read them yet. Of course Elie Wiesel’s Night exists–and I have read it–but somehow the most intense pain, to my mind, is felt by children.

Janusz Korczak is the only adult mentioned. Why? Because he was a mentally ill Jew whose unusual life involved running two orphanages, one for Polish children and one for Jewish orphans. He is well known in Poland for writing the delightful King Matt the First and Kaytek the Wizard for children. But he was no mere Lewis Carroll or C.S. Lewis. No, he proved his love for children because when Nazis came he refused to leave his Jewish children. He received offers to escape, but he would not leave his children to die alone. Both he and they died at Treblinka, one of the deadliest camps.

I named this part of the book (Lamentations) J’ Accuse because Alfred Dreyfuss was a French Jew who was framed for treason. The only reason anyone believed it was he and not Esterhazy who committed the crime was because Dreyfuss was a Jew. Then Emile Zola wrote an article J’ Accuse taking on the military authorities wrongly convicting Dreyfuss. Emile Zola was not a Jew but had a fiery sense of justice. Well, that leads to the question: where and from whom do we get justice for the Jewish children who died in the Holocaust. The Nazis? But the Nazis have no sense of right or wrong or justice. The Allies? They may have been on the side of justice but they did not do enough. Yet there is one acter that Ellie Wiesel writes about as needing to answer: God.

I believe that God cries in the ashes of the Holocaust–and is equally devastated by the acts of lawlessness at New York and Texas, among others. Yet human beings need to purge their grief. True restoration of faith cannot be gained by pretending everything is fine. Without always understanding, I am reminded of Paul Tillich’s claim that humankind needs “a God after God.” When all of the idols are smashed, there is God. Writing The Bible According to Eve, I looked to try to smash the idol of male chauvinism to find the true heart of God in the book I could not discard.

As for the other book in which there was scant mention of woman–I wrote a version of Job, and I will give no spoilers except to say that Job also strikes out against God in an attempt to find justice. His plight is the plight of Elie Wiesel in Messengers of God, a book about some key Hebrew prophets. Job was the last book in Messengers of God.

Like Paul Tillich I prefer to believe that if we look into the blinding light of Truth, we will find God. Ultimately, we can find our way out of the abyss humankind seems to have fallen into… Why is that? Because if we see the truth, the people who died at Buffalo, New York or the teachers and children at Uvalde in Texas, are not really dead. They are with us, and we shall meet them again in the World-to-Come.

Isaiah 40:6-8

Everyone knows how Donald Trump answered when he was asked about the Bible, “How do you feel about the Bible?” He said it was “the second greatest book after The Art of the Deal.” Yes, but did he have a favorite book of the Bible? Was he an Old Testament or New Testament man? What particularly lines of scripture appealed to him? (LBJ’s favorite line was ostensibly, “Let us reason together”–from Isaiah, no less.) It was “all good, all good.” Yet he didn’t have a particular quote or book that he loved best.

Well, being a Jew I am a “Hebrew Bible” person (the Christian Old Testament). So it is I thought I would give the performance that Donald Trump failed to. I am going to list my very favorite verses, even though they are not considered more than editorial gloss by Bible scholars, written by Isaiah’s redactor rather than the original prophet, prophets, or prophetic school which pieced the Book of Isaiah together. I may have written about them before, but I shall write again:


A voice rings out, “Proclaim!”
Another says, “What shall I proclaim?
“All flesh is grass,

All its goodness like the flowers of the field:
Grass withers, flowers fade

When the breath of the Lord blows upon them.

Indeed, man is like grass.

Grass withers, flowers fade–

But the word of our Lord is always fulfilled.

I know that the average readers of this quotation may mistake the tone of this nugget as being melancholic. The transitory nature of mortal life makes fills them with grief at the loss which old age brings, as one sees first one’s parents and then one’s friends die off… And then a person asks, “But is there anything that transcends myself, something that lives forever, and that the believing in will cause me to live forever, like the fountain of youth legend had existed in America?” The answer is in the positive reply, “But the word of our Lord is always fulfilled.” The blessed have a share in the World-to-Come, and are not limited in number to a specific race or creed. Those whom we were separated like the grass withers and flowers fade, will be rejoined to us if we do justice, love goodness and walk humbly with our God.

Rereading Whitehead

Today I have read a sliver of Process and Reality–pg. 1-18. As I wrote, I underlined important passages, and later I listed around eight or nine ideas, some paraphrases and some direct quotations. Now, I have also read 146-180 of The House on Pooh Corner, and tomorrow I shall begin When We Were Very Young. The reader–I realize–may not be impressed by a mere 18 pages of philosophy being read with 36 of a children’s book. Yet a person–and I learned this from Whitehead himself, in a sense, has to bear in mind that some days a person gets a great deal done and sometimes a person gets only a small fraction of that done.

My justification is that Alfred North Whitehead is a tough read, and that his concepts–the prerational first principles of science, the nature of morality, and philosophy’s relationship to science and religion–are unwieldy and difficult to understand. Yet even then a person can feel their “brains” (to use the word of Winnie the Pooh) improving. Because of this, I will explain what I derived both from this–my 2nd– reading of Whitehead along with my first.

Reading Whitehead I am reminded of how many religions present “a Way” to God or to Enlightenment. In a sense there be no need for God or “Enlightenment” to be mutually exclusive; both of them involve a transcending of the Self and a meeting of the Other. Reading through Whitehead, I am convinced that I will find a rational expression of the Way that I have chosen in Judaism. More, I am sure Whitehead would approve, because he was very tolerant and though the school set up under his name–The Claremont School of Theology–insists its teachers all attend religious services, when a Jewish teacher came to teach they changed their charter so he could attend his services on Saturday.

Anyway, I find in Whitehead the idea that a person moves through constant improvement, just as an Cosmic Idea moves towards the good through time, and that Idea is God. I am too sentimental to give up the idea that God is personal and hears all of our prayers. Nonetheless, I like Whitehead’s idea that what defines God is His “Creativity.” I believe that the Creativity moves through Nature to the existence of plants and animals, but also that God created humankind “in His image” because we, too, are “Creators.” We create tools and cooking, of course. Yet, more, we paint, sculpt, tell stories, and write poems. All of these things shape our humanity.

I read a book sometime back, Can Poetry Matter? The author claimed that there would always be a small part of the population–the professional class, mainly–who read poetry or should read poetry because it developed a flexibility in language that needed to be practiced in their field. More, this would influence society as a whole. I found myself profoundly disappointed. I wanted to say that Poetry was transcendent, something uniquely human, perhaps even more so than writing histories or books of science. More, in ancient times ordinary Greeks learned “verses” of the Iliad and the Odyssey as part of their education. These epic poems were part of what made these peoples live. Similarly, Jews had orally transmitted stories and poems which kept their faith alive despite constantly being conquered or placed under exile.

Now, based on this gut reaction, I believe all people should be literate in Shakespeare’s sonnets; John Donne’s “No Man is an Island”; Milton’s Paradise Lost; Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”; Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Xanadu”; Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Sonnet of the Portuguese; Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”; Emily Dickenson’s poetry; Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee”; T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry; Langston Hughes’ poetry; James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones; Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Travelled”; and e.e. cummings’ “Nobody Loses All the Time.” I know this leaves out a lot of good poetry–yet I tried to be comprehensive about “greats” I am personally familiar with. I beg to differ with the writer of Can Poetry Matter? on another matter: though it is perhaps a good idea that children memorize poetry, I genuinely enjoyed discussing what it “meant” in class as a kid. However, that is a personal aside only.

I think what Can Poetry Matter? didn’t get is that education is supposed to be both a right and duty, much the way voting is. It is not a privilege for the few, or we aren’t really living in a democracy. (We had this problem a lot until just recently in voting… and perhaps still do, depending on what the upswing of voter turnout is.) I remember reading years ago that the ancient practice of memorizing proverbs–which King Solomon is supposed to have done–now seems ostentatious, downright annoying. Yet to lose the ability to love and use the language is not ostentatious and should not be annoying. It should be recalled that Lincoln honed his speaking skills on Shakespeare and the King James Bible. More, when the Douglass-Lincoln debates took place they lasted full days in which the audience made no complaint.

Anyway, we have gone a long way from the “Cosmic Idea” that I find in Whitehead, and His way of helping me understand the God of scripture. Yet issues like poetry–Whitehead talks about these. He insists that humankind is by nature creative, and I would add that when it fails to express its Creative Spirit, it turns inward and becomes less than its’ potential–perhaps less than human, Itself.

Rereading the Hebrew Bible

All great books bear rereading. If you love a story enough, you might read it a dozen times and it will never get old. Just this evening I finished a book, though not a story: Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament. I found it very interesting and very informative, but I shall have to read it again to get the full picture behind it. However, I shall not reread it immediately. I am also in the process of finishing The House at Pooh Corner, an equally great book in its own way.

Over the years I’ve found a great pleasure in looking up the original versions of children’s stories I read as a child, whether originally told by the Grimm brothers (whose volumes I have read several times) and Hans Christian Anderson (which I hope to read again some day) to J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio (both of which I’ve read only once) to Frances Burnet’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden (I read the originals in childhood and as an adult) and–of course–Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (which every child in America has read) …

Yet, despite hoping to finish off the second Winnie the Pooh book soon, I find that the larger tomb Theology of the Old Testament is a book which I hope to reread sometime soon, too–after rereading Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality, and then a large dose of Dostoyevsky: The Idiot; Devils; and The Brothers Karamazov. Why Dostoyevsky? Because–though I am rereading what I’ve listed–I am hoping to read up for a string of novellas, the first of which is The Firebird Unchained which I am writing myself. Yet while swimming all this literary material, I am reminded of the fact that the “Book of Books” that a person rereads throughout their lifetime is–for the religious person–the Bible.

Truthfully, I have only barely looked at the Bible since last year. I reread part of Genesis and Daniel–but there are extraordinary circumstances with that. Plus, if I had been doing my religious duties in the synagogue, then during the appropriate times I would be reading part of the Torah and part of the Haftorah. I must guiltily admit that I just listen to the Hebrew, which I do not understand well enough to interpret. Nonetheless, I have read the Bible–whether as the “Hebrew Bible” or “Old Testament”–five times in its entirety. More, today I signed a contract with urlink.pub that they will be publishing:

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im I: The Histories: Eve in Search of Adam;

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im II: The Seers: Eve Supplants Lilith;

The Bible According to Eve: Ketuvim: The Writings: Eve Struggles with God and Man and Prevails.

The second of these three I had already signed away, and a different publisher published The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah for me. Regardless, what was made exciting about these books for me was the process of retelling timeless stories, beloved, odd, irritating and disturbing from a new perspective. I thrilled to the stories that churchgoers leave out of the Sunday School lessons for children. I guess it showed; an editor who reviewed The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah, said that he rated it R and it might be a bit too taboo for children. However, I feel that sometimes to get to the heart of what matters in a story, you can’t prettify things, you have to admit that murder, incest, and rape do exist in the Bible. The age of bowdlerizing Bibles has long since past.

Though I finished writing my four-book set when I was 35, and I am 43 now, I am still learning. Hence I am reading and rereading Walter Brueggemann and–for that matter, though he is a philosopher more than a Bible scholar–Alfred North Whitehead. However, I am learning through the “primary source” as well…

Patriotism After Vietnam

Can faith live again once it is lost? I was reading a book, Theology of the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann. It referred to Walter Isaacson’s The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. According to Brueggemann the world these six friends made ended in the Vietnam World. More accurately, it ended with the Berlin Wall falling down, but with the United States no longer certain of what its goals in the world actually were. It was actually Ronald Reagan who first promised dolorously to “Make America Great Again,” and whatever one makes of his presidency it did not deserve to have this central phrase picked up by the shrill, nasty bludgeoning of hate by Donald Trump. Yet even with Reagan, the question was “is this banner being waved because America hopes or because it follows an era of cynicism and despair?” I admit that I am one of the few of my generation–I was born in 1978–to believe America’s side of the Cold War justified and even heroic. Of course, nobody believes in Vietnam anymore–but with an amorphous, multifrontal war, is it possible that we would not stumble someplace? The problem was that we had difficulty admitting it to ourselves: America could lose a war. Pride comes before a fall.

Looking through A Treasury of American Folklore, I am looking for the Promised Land of the Past. Though I know my country has had its sins, I insist it has had it’s moments of glory, too. More, I deny that any culture which loses faith in itself can truly succeed. What today’s Progressives need to remember is that Teddy Roosevelt–one of the original Progressives–hoped to reform America, but only because he loved in and believed in America. People forget that Teddy Roosevelt gave Edward Curtis a salary to take pictures of the Amerindians whose traditions were dying off; gave another government salary to poet Edwin Arlington Robinson; granted land for National Parks; and out of public office wrote the four-volume The Winning of the West (admittedly it was left “unfinished”). All of these show an abiding love for America–both that contemporary of Roosevelt and that which was already past. Part of his charm was his belief in himself and his country were part of the mix with his phenomenal energy to disarm even political adversaries.

Anyway, the question I posed is: having lost faith in a country, how does one find it again? My feeling is that it is in the History and Literature of a people. My feeling is that while a person should believe in God–perhaps that is even more natural and necessary to believing in a person’s native land–the rationale for this faith is not the same. Or at least, in America they were never the same, as a person could believe pretty much whatever he or she chose and nobody could say anything about it. It is true that racism has stained our national character–the Civil War had to be fought because of it and even that did not settle the matter–but to quote Barak Obama, we are still working “to form a more perfect union.” Sexism is a worldwide phenomena, but from the beginning of our country, Abigail Adams reminded her husband John Adams, “Remember the ladies.” I actually have never felt–as a woman–that I was maltreated because of my gender. This is not to say I have never suffered, but I believe there was never a time when somebody in a position of authority was mean to me based on my gender…

Even so, I believe that writing about women suffering in History–by writing The Bible According to Eve–was a liberating experience perhaps made possible because of living in America. I have two Russian friends at my synagogue who told me that before the 20th Century, there were no major women writers in Russia. There was no Willa Cather or Helen Hunt Jackson or Emily Dickinson or Louisa May Alcott or Laura Ingalls Wilder. We discussed this in some depth: Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy possessed great minds, but no woman was ever allowed to become one. Chekov was the same way. No women of note wrote in Russia. It was true that Catherine the Great was a figure of immense clout in the Russian empire. Yet the moment her dull-witted son became tzar he made it so no woman could inherit the position of ruling as “tzar.” No tzarina could rule Russia, for herself or as a regent. I still hope to find that there is a folklorist or some other unappreciated authoress before Anna Akhmatova (a poet forced to leave Russia in the twentieth century) in Russia. Yet I have not found her yet.

Yet in America, women have always been valued more highly than, say, Russia. In the 19th Century, this was also true of England or France. Alexis de Tocqueville commented that if anyone ask why America was destined to succeed he would say, “The superiority of it’s women.” This was said by a man who normally was ambivalent about the country, and–more–ambivalent about democracy itself. He claimed that the strength and character of America’s women was based on how they were raised.

The point is that I could not come from a better place to write a book raising questions about our traditional scriptures. Of course, I do not mean to say by writing my book that women ought to reject God, or–for that matter–the Bible. Yet if a book can criticize a culture while loving it–think of Charles Dickens–then I believe I can attempt to do that with the Bible. I truly believe our understanding of the Bible can be evolving and not static. I believe that of my country, America, too.

“Dream Deferred”

I am convinced there is no tragedy greater than to let go of a person’s childhood aspirations, or to not have had them in the first place. This problem is movingly described in Langston Hughes’ “Dream Deferred,”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Outside of the poem I think about my dad and my Cousin Craig in particular when I think of the tragedy of a person walking away from what ought to mean the most to them–though I am sure Hughes meant to portray those who have no choice.

When Dad was young he loved music. He took up playing the clarinet, and could play Jazz better than most amateur’s. He majored in music in college. There he met and married my mom. It all looked as though it could come true: there was a gig in Las Vegas which he could have played as a studio musician. I do not know how long he would play there, but Mom said she was all for it: she could get a job as a public school teacher there and while she worked steadily he could work at different clubs.

Yet he got cold feet at the last moment. Dad was used to his weekly check at Santa Fe. So the dream died. Dad played the music as an avocation, but he never played his clarinet to earn a living. I always felt this was the great tragedy of his life.

Most people wonder about me for caring: my dad was a difficult man to like. In fact, I look back at him as being selfish and self-centered. His love for music was a curse as well as a blessing: I couldn’t get caught dead playing any rock-and-roll around him, and as a child that is difficult because rock-and-roll is what kids like.

Nonetheless, the one gift he had was his music… Dad’s second wife Renae was a flutist. Dad seemed genuinely happy when they were married. However, ten years into their marriage she left–because her biological father convinced her to. Dad went berserk, but one aspect of his tantrum was that he would not play his instrument because “it reminded him of Renae.” Yet two years before he died when his mind was going bad he attempted to play his horn again–but could not. It was his tragedy.

As for Craig… his tragedy was not–to quote Langston Hughes– his “Dream Deferred,” but the fact that he never apparently had any guiding light when he was young. He totaled his first car in high school, and dropped out of high school to marry his wife, Diane. Oddly, he was pleasanter on the surface than my dad–but perhaps most people are. His addiction to alcohol killed him. By the time it killed him he had been in several car wrecks and the courts had told him to go to AA. Realistically, though, his mind was rendered unable to get well… or so I believe. Anyway, one night driving home from a bar he smashed into a car–he was killed, the other driver was unharmed. I remember feeling as though Craig’s life had no meaning. It wasn’t as if I didn’t feel bad for him… it was as though his self-destructive urges caught up to him in the end, and outweighed what was good. Yet I could not blame him. It was really like a suicide. We all knew Craig wanted to die.

What did these two men have in common? It was that they gave up on themselves. I won’t go far into the “why’s”–perhaps I have said too much already. It is just that I have come to believe in my life that a person has to have some kernel of life in them that belongs to them, and that they must suffer–if they suffer–for that kernel. I believe my writing is my kernel. Even my religion is not quite that kernel… it is my desire to–to borrow Teddy Roosevelt’s words–“climb mighty mountains and win glorious prizes,” except that my mountains and prizes are a life in which my written work can pay my bills. I know this must look selfish to outsiders, who notice that I still live with my mom and pay my bills using my Disability Check.

I have a friend who personifies–I think–the idea that a person can be the person they want to be. My rabbi is that person. His parents are two Hollywood-types. Truthfully I do not know much about them, except that they did not take their Judaism seriously. Well, Rabbi decided that he did not want to do the Hollywood thing–not that he would have had a chance of being more than a script writer. He wanted to put his faith first and believe in God first. So he did. He is eccentric, but I like to believe he has a heart of gold. He has talked to me some about my health troubles, and I believe he cares about all of us at the synagogue.

I Attempt Dostoyevskyan Insight

Having reread Crime and Punishment, I cannot help but be impressed by Dostoyevsky’s understanding of both human behavior and particular human evil. Of course, he spent a fair portion of his early life behind bars for having passed out socialist pamphlets. More, his own father was a sadist as parents anywhere go: his serfs finally revolted and poured boiling oil down his throat. So Dostoyevsky had a lot to mull over about the human condition that perhaps I have been lucky enough to avoid.

Nonetheless, I have written books and hope to write more books that attempt to understand the depths of what it means to be human–if through a largely Jewish lens. Brazil was a book in which I dropped the figure Aher (Other) in the country it is named for. Aher is a figure in the Jewish Talmud who saw a child fall from a tree and die, and hence lost faith in Judaism. (Despite this, Aher is quoted once in the Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers.) I had been looking for a way to describe the 3rd World in Art for a long time… in high school I always wished I could describe a place like Rio or Shanghai, but had no way of describing them because I had never been to them.

I felt that like Dickens’ London, these places could be helped if people saw that their poverty was not necessary and must change. On learning about Aher, I saw the appropriate eye with which to view Brazil the place–though I did find out it is not the worst off place in Latin America. So I researched Brazil as best I could–I hope I did a good job–and introduced the rabbinical student Jose Baruch, who became “Other” after leaving the faith.

I will leave the reader to find my book–should the revised draft ever be in print–however, I have a sequel and a prequel I would like to write for the book. The sequel is the story of Isaias, Other’s adopted son. It is called Wild Rose because like wild roses, a street child in Brazil is a beautiful flower treated as a noxious weed. Yet although loved by Other, Isaias longs for his deceased brother Manuel and finds himself wondering about the fate of another street orphan, Indio. In his teenage years, he goes back to his old neighborhood and finds Indio has fathered an illegitimate child of his own, and the mother of the child is a prostitute.

I also want to write God’s Laughter Reverberates on Sugar Loaf Mountain about Father Joao, a story including both the backstory of why he became a priest–he was a heedless young man until his younger brother died–and then leads up through his caring for orphans at an orphanage he starts until COVID-19 arrives. I admit this makes Father Joao almost too much of a saint, yet he never loses his initial tendency to wry humor and even skepticism towards what people gullibly assume to be “the way things are.” He believes that behind the veil of how things seem is often how things actually are. He says that, “I learned this studying Kant.” He also continues to read Voltaire as a priest.

“Each Man Dies for His Own Sins”

Reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment I am reminded of the Jewish teaching that when each person dies they will go before Adam, and he will tell them that their death is a punishment for what they did while alive, and not his sin in the Garden of Eden millennia before them. Although Judaism’s variant on Original Sin–for not every person deserves hellfire in Judaism, perhaps even most of us don’t–is different from the Christian version, I find myself shocked by Dostoyevsky’s understanding of Evil. If you take the book as a whole, the “ultimate evil” might be the claim on a person’s part that they are “above” the rules that bind other people to ideas like right and wrong. Raskolnikov even makes the claim that “the herd” exists for the sake of the “exceptional” person who breaks old taboos and creates new ones. Of course, the “ultimate crime” in Crime and Punishment is murder 1, and murder for an idea rather than for petty considerations like money or revenge. So it is that Dostoyevsky can be seen as foretelling the lawless world of Communism and Naziism. Both teach that there is no real morality save for the morality of the strong man–though in Communism the “strong man” is supposed to be a class and not an individual.

Another book I am reminded of is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun. I am forced to admit that though it was my favorite of his novels when I was in high school, many people misuse it as a tour book of Italy. Donatello (the faun) murders Miriam’s abusive husband both because he sees Miriam’s husband abusing her and because he is in love with Miriam himself. Yet the mystery of his household (he is of aristocratic lineage), is that they are sinless in their youth and in old age’s decay monstrous. Now Donatello joins humanity through the fact that he has a sense of sin resulting from his “fall.” However, this “fall” makes him unhappy. It is the irony that though sin is necessary, it is not redemptive. Though this is a different paradigm from Dostoyevsky’s–for whom sin is wholly evil but from which a person, through suffering, can redeem him or herself–there is overlap. More, they both are interested as humankind’s emotional landscape and not just the contents of the mind.

I find myself wondering if we in modern times have divorced ourselves from concepts of “sin” and “guilt” too much. Though I found these ideas oppressive as a child, it seems like a person ought to have a strong believe in “good” or “bad.” The reason is that while reading Nietzsche and other writers, I have noticed that each person declaring they can get “beyond” good and evil seems invariably to than either promote or do deeds that before their book were considered evil. It is not really that they find a way to destroy world poverty or save the earth so much as commit sexual crimes or acts of hate.